I’ve been battling to find time to post these last few weeks. I’ve scribbled a few ideas on paper but have not been able to actually finish them off.
This post today has been prompted by a television programme I watched recently where an elderly father wanted his son to take him across State lines to visit a friend and colleague he worked with in his younger days. The friend is dying and the old man just wanted to make sure he saw him before he died. The son is addicted to his job and resented having to tear himself away from his job to help his elderly dad.
Watching this tug-of-war between father and son just brought back so many memories for me of my own relationship with my mom in the last fourteen months before she died. From the time my mom got sick, I made sure my work and my entire life came second and mom came first – always! and watching this tug-of-war between this father and son tonight made me realise how precious our last few months and hours are with our elderly parents.
My mom was not really old (she was seventy one when she died) but her illness caused her to be confined to bed for the last few months of her life. Most of what I experienced with mom was part of the natural ageing process but in my mom’s case, was accelerated by her illness. Let me share some of these with you and hopefully you will get the picture.
Loss of short term memory: This is part of the natural ageing process and usually progresses slowly until, in some cases, Alzeimers disease will set in – but not all ageing people end up with Alzeimers disease. In my mom’s case, her short term memory loss was age related but was accelerated by the brain tumour so as the tumour grew, the short term memory was almost completely taken over by her long term memory i.e. she could remember things that happened years ago but could not remember what happened that morning.
The urgency of doing things NOW – not being able to wait until later: This is also part of the natural ageing process and gets worse the closer they get to death. Again, in my mom’s case, this was accelerated by her brain tumour to the point where five minutes seemed like an eternity to her, which means I was kept on my toes all the time because mom immediately felt abandoned if left alone for too long.
Child taking the role of parent: I think this is the most difficult part of the ageing process where the child has to take over the role of bed bathing, brushing the teeth, combing the hair, dressing when the parent can no longer move around freely and is confined to bed. This, I think, was the most difficult part of mom’s illness for both of us, when mom had to resign herself to the fact that she just cannot do this herself anymore and also brought home to me just how ill mom really was. I did, however try my best to do this part with as much dignity as possible.
I had to be very subtle in the way I suggested replacing underwear with diapers to avoid soiling the bed and had to ensure this was done in the most dignified way possible.
Spending time just listening: The closer mom got to her final days, the more she just wanted me to be with her to just listen – telling the same old stories I’ve heard a million times before going as far back as her primary school days. To listen without getting impatient, without saying “yeah, yeah, I’ve heard that so many times before”. I just kept quiet and listened for as long as it took. Preparing the next meal, washing dishes or doing the laundry just had to wait, I had to listen. In the end I was glad I took the time to listen because it kept mom calm and stress free to the end.
This television programme I watched recently showed how impatient the son got with his father when all the father wanted was for his son to spend time with him. The look of sadness and abandonment in the father’s eyes made me feel so sad because even just five minutes would have meant the world to the father and yet the son was not even prepared to sacrifice that five minutes of his time.
The night before mom died she was very restless and could not get to sleep. I continuously had to go into her room just to be there, to lay down next to her, just to hold her hand and tell her everything will be alright. Right up until the morning of her death, mom was like a little girl just needing comfort and reassurance that everything was going to be alright. That’s all that mattered in the end.
My job and my job title did not matter – the only thing that mattered was being there.
We, the younger generation need to slow down, stop and “smell the roses”. We need to stop trying to rush our parent(s) into handing over everything to us so we can take over and control their lives. We need to help them live a life of independence and dignity for as long as possible instead of trying to control them because we want to make things easier for ourselves.
Parents feel they need to be parents right up to the end and that is why we, as children need to take control without them losing their dignity as parents.
We should allow them to remain parents and we should continue to respect them as such right to the end (even though we have taken control of their worldly goods).
Children are often in too much of a hurry to take over the parents’ house and entire life thinking they are making things easier for the parent when, in fact, the parent struggles to let go because they see this as losing their dignity and freedom which they want to hold on to as long as possible.
Role reversal is as difficult for the parent as it is for the child. As children we need to remember that even though we are having to parent our parent(s), we still need to treat them as parents and not as children. Still speak as a child to a parent and not the other way around.
Children need to be more tolerant and patient when this stage comes and gradually take over once the parent is ready to hand over the reigns – but not to rush in and try to grab everything from the parent(s) all at once.